Which, in English, is translated as The Housemaid, though it would perhaps have been more aptly titled Rats! I Got Me a New House. Not just because the catastrophe that swiftly unfurls in this film has its roots in the new house that a family moves into, but because the rat that is found there—and which makes the wife and mother faint and immediately order rat poison to be brought—ends up not just coming to a sorry end itself, but being indirectly the downfall of the family itself. Because that rat poison, lying hidden away first in a kitchen cupboard, then in a sideboard and finally inside a vase, is the constant reminder that the Kims’ home possesses a very potent murder weapon right there, on the premises.
Some definitions that came to my mind, having—over the course of a little over thirty years—watched three versions of the same story:
Nostalgia. A feeling of deep, intense longing for a film you saw in your childhood, and of which you remember nothing except the vague outline of a story.
Serendipity. Searching for a film you know next to nothing about, and finding an earlier version that turns out to be even better than the one you recall seeing.
Double delight. Finding yet another version of a much-loved film, and discovering that this one is just as good as the other versions.
The point being that Shijibganeun Nal, about which I raved so ecstatically a couple of years back on this blog, turned out to have been only the earliest (as far as I know) cinematic adaptation of a comic play about a greedy country gentleman, a quiet and upright maidservant, and a young nobleman. I had originally seen the 1977 version of this film on Doordarshan three decades ago; I found and watched (with much enjoyment) the award-winning 1956 version some time back; and then, the other day, I came across this version (the name of which translates as ‘A Happy Day for Maeng Jinsa’) on Youtube. And how could I resist watching it all over again?
Among the most popular old tales in Korea—or so various sites inform me—is that of Chun Hyang, the beautiful daughter of a courtesan, and of Chun Hyang’s efforts to remain faithful to her husband, come what may.
I happened to come across a highly abridged version of The Tale of Chun Hyang on Scribd, read it (it was just six pages long) and liked it enough to try and see if I could get a novel-length version. I couldn’t get one—but what I found was that this tale seems to be to Korean cinema what Beauty and the Beast is to Western cinema: done and redone since the first moving pictures began. There have been over twenty versions made of this story, some of them now gone missing. The original story has been retained in most versions (including this one that I’m reviewing); there’s a TV series dating from 2005 (Delightful Girl Choon Hyang) which sets the same story in modern-day Korea and gives it a typical K-drama touch; and there are ‘what-if’ scenarios that have been spawned from The Tale of Chun Hyang.